Regents, legislators to meet over sabbaticals

BY SAM LANE | DECEMBER 14, 2010 7:10 AM

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

One member of the state Board of Regents plans to meet with elected officials later this week to discuss a legislative backlash following the regents' decision to approve all 95 requested sabbaticals for the three state universities.

Repubican legislators have been outspoken about wanting to cut professional development assignments at Iowa's regent univeristies to save money. After the regents approved the requested sabbaticals at their meeting last week, some legislators were upset.

Now, Regent Robert Downer said he plans to meet with legislators this week to discuss this issue.
Downer said he was unable to divulge the location of the meeting or which legislators will be involved, but he said it is an effort to better communicate with lawmakers and the public on the importance of sabbaticals. He also said he thought other regents will take a similar approach.

"It seems to me that we have a communication problem here," he said. "In my opinion, we have done a substantially less-than-satisfactory job explaining the importance of [professional development assignments]. That's something I think we need to work on."

Downer had previously stressed this communication during the Dec. 9 telephonic regents meeting, when they approved 58 sabbaticals for UI faculty — slightly more than 4 percent of eligible professors.

The total budgeted replacement costs for the approved assignments is a combined $422,283 for the three regent universities.

For the last few months, Republican lawmakers have recommended halting such as assignments as a cost-cutting measure.

Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, incoming vice chairman of the House education appropriation subcommittee, said the intent is to look at the items from a budgetary standpoint.

"I wouldn't say that [the assignments are] something that are definitely on the chopping block," Jorgensen said. If sabbaticals are "just used to take a break … their value has to be questioned," he said.

Downer said he was "very, very disturbed" when some legislators publicly denounced the regents' action as "arrogant," or insinuated that the regents could be "punished" for their vote.

But he denied the idea that the issue of professional development assignments has chilled the relationship between regents and Republican legislators.

"I've talked with a number of them," Downer said. "I think they're seeking information. I think we have a duty to provide it to them."

He plans to provide copies of regents' agenda items to the legislators with whom he meets. The documents from last week's meeting lay out all the faculty members' plans for their assignments and provide a brief report on the accomplishments of those who took a sabbatical last year.

"We need to make certain that it's clear this is not a disguised vacation," he said.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said some Republican lawmakers — in particular, Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton — are using criticisms of the assignments as "smoke and mirrors" in an attempt to reduce funding to the regents and privatize the state's universities.

"A couple of people who have a vendetta are trying to flex their muscles," Jacoby said. "I think they need to go back to the gym and work out."

Kaufmann did not return calls on Monday.

> Share your thoughts! Click here to write a Letter to the Editor.

comments powered by Disqus

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.